ANALYSIS: Nullifying Dual Citizenship Law in Liberia: What the Supreme Court Ruling Means

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LEGAL QUESTION ANSWERED: The discussion over which people of goodwill may disagree, presented an important legal question for which we had to seek legal redress: whether the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia permits the Government to use the referenced sections of the Aliens and Nationality Law to deprive a Liberian of citizenship. “That legal question was answered in the negative yesterday when the Honorable Supreme Court ruled in our favor, holding that the challenged section violates the due process clause of the Liberian Constitution and, as a consequence, was repealed by Article 95(a) of the 1986 Constitution.


Monrovia – A Supreme Court ruling Monday, inspired by the perseverance of Cllr. Seward Cooper, a former legal advisor to former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and his client Attorney A Teage Jalloh, nullifying the controversial laws barring dual citizenship ended nearly a decade-old quest to bring closure to a nagging issue that has kept Diaspora-based Liberians on edge about the uncertainty regarding their standing in the land of their birth.


Atty. Jalloh, a Liberian-born with American citizenship was denied travel documents by the Liberian embassy in Washington, DC after being told he needed a non-immigrant Liberian visa before he could be permitted to enter Liberia.

Atty. Jalloh took his fight to the high court, arguing that Sections 22.2 of the Alien and Nationality Law which were enacted before the adoption of the 1986 constitution, purports to automatically-deprived Liberian citizens of their citizenship rights if they do certain things such as vote in the elections of a foreign country or join the military of another country. Teage contended that these laws were repealed b Article 95(a) of the 1986 constitution as being inconsistent with the due process clause of Article 20(a).

What Does the Ruling Mean

The high court ruling was an emphatic statement and major victory for Teage. So, what does it all mean?

In the landmark ruling, the Court opined that Section 22.2 of the Aliens and Nationality Law is in direct conflict with the requirements of Article 20(a) of the Liberian Constitution (1986), which provides in part: ‘No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, security of the person, property, privilege or any other right except as the outcome of a hearing judgment consistent with due process of law…”

The Judges further opined Section 22.2 of the Aliens and Nationality Law provides: “Loss of citizenship under Section 22.1 of this title shall result solely from the performance by a citizen of acts or fulfillment of the conditions specified in such section, and without the institution by the Government of any proceeding to nullify or cancel such citizenship.
They further noted that the Section 22.2 of the Aliens and Nationality Law which was enacted long before the coming into force the 1986 Constitution and being in conflict with Article 20(a) of the 1986 Constitution which was deemed repealed within the contemplation of Article 95(a) of the Constitution as at the time the Constitution came into effect in 1986.

“Wherefore and in view of the foregoing, the petition is hereby granted. Section 22.2 of the Aliens and Nationality Law, to the extent that it provides for loss of citizenship solely on account of the performance by a citizenship of acts or fulfillment of the conditions specified in Section 22.1 without the institution by the Government of any proceedings to nullify or cancel citizenship in violation of the due process clause under Article 209(a) of the 1986 Constitution, is hereby null and void without any force and effect of law,” the Judges ruled.

Due Process Essential

Ibrahim Al-Bakri Nyei, a researcher, activist, political analyst, former Programme Manager for Political and Legal Reforms at the Governance Commission, and currently a PhD Candidate at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, says the ruling was simply on the question of due process for Mr. Teage. “It does not amount to automatic removal of dual citizenship restrictions. Supporters of dual citizenship need to mobilize and campaign for Proposition 1 in the forthcoming constitutional referendum. Only a constitutional provision can settle the question of dual citizenship and restore the rights of people of Liberian descent who are today citizens of other countries. This ruling, in my view only means that for the government to deny anyone Liberian descent their claimed Liberian citizenship, the decision must follow a due process that proves indeed that the claimant is a citizen of another country.”

Mr. Emmanuel Wettee, a former president of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas and chairman of the All Liberian Conference on Dual Citizenship (ALCDC) says Monday’s ruling was based on due process only.

Teage: Legal Question Answered

For Cllr. Cooper and Atty. Teage, the high court ruling settles a lingering question. “Over the past several years, Liberians at home and abroad have been engaged in a profound discussion about sections 22.1 and 22.2 of the 1973 Aliens and Nationality Law, which purported to automatically deprive a Liberian of citizenship when that Liberian became a naturalized citizen of another country, voted in a foreign election, or served in the military of another country without prior approval from the President of Liberia.”

The pair argue that the discussion over which people of goodwill may disagree, presented an important legal question for which we had to seek legal redress: whether the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia permits the Government to use the referenced sections of the Aliens and Nationality Law to deprive a Liberian of citizenship. “That legal question was answered in the negative yesterday when the Honorable Supreme Court ruled in our favor, holding that the challenged section violates the due process clause of the Liberian Constitution and, as a consequence, was repealed by Article 95(a) of the 1986 Constitution.”

This means that the “law” that had been used to scare you or your loved ones about loss of citizenship was abrogated along with the 1847 Constitution more than 33 years ago and has no legal force upon your citizenship.”

“This means if one is accused of having subscribed to another citizenship, you must be taken before a judge and proof of the second citizenship established before you can lose your Liberian citizenship. In the absence of an amendment, this was the best we could get. The constitutional provision prohibiting dual citizenship is still in force. What the amendment seeks to do is to abolish it completely; except that dual citizens won’t be eligible for certain positions in government.”

Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, Current Minister of Justice and one of the lawyers who argued the case before the Supreme Court

The pair said Monday’s ruling is a huge victory for Liberia’s constitutional system. “It is also a huge personal victory for thousands of Liberians living worldwide, some of whom were of the mistaken belief that they had lost their citizenship. We hope that this victory leads to greater inclusion. We also hope that it will serve as an incentive for Liberians in the Diaspora to do more for this cherished Republic of ours.”

The dual citizenship issue took on renewed interests recently when a bill dubbed Proposition One in the Senate sought to bar natural-born citizen of Liberia from holding the citizenship of another country. The proposition however, does state that the person shall not qualify for elected positions and the following appointed positions: Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia; Cabinet Ministers, Deputy Ministers; all heads of Autonomous Commissions, Agencies and Non-Academic/Research/Scientific Institutions and Ambassadors.

The Senate version also states: “Any person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen of Liberia at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a natural-born citizen of Liberia; a natural-born citizen’s right to citizenship of Liberia is inherent and inalienable; no law shall be enacted or regulation promulgated which deprives a natural born of the Republic of his/her citizenship right; and any law or regulation which alienates or deprives a natural born of the Republic of his/her rights is null and void.

What is unclear for now is how swiftly the law comes into effect and what happens to the plan for a referendum on the issue next year?

In October, the government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that pursuant to a Joint Resolution of the 54th Legislature, it was proposing a Constitutional Referendum to Amendment several articles of the constitution, including the citizenship issue.

According to the Official Gazette of the government: A yes vote on the measure means: “You have agreed that a person, at least one of whose parents was a citizen at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a natural-born citizen of Liberia. Such person does not have to reach the age of maturity to decide his/her citizenship. Also, you have agreed that a natural born citizen of Liberia may hold another citizenship but shall not qualify for elected national positions or public service positions listed in the amended proposition.”

A no vote on the measure means, “the constitutional provision shall not change but will remain in its current form.” At a recent Diaspora conference on the issue recently, Cllr. Cooper, raised concerns that the law as is, does not offer anything relating to naturalized citizens.

Article 28 Issue Still in the Air

Despite the high court ruling, there’s still the issue of Article 28 which some legal experts argue has not been addressed.

Article 28 states: “Any person, at least one of whose parents was citizen of Liberia at the time of the person’s birth, shall be a citizen of Liberia; provided that any such person shall upon reaching maturity renounce any other citizenship acquired by virtue of one parent being a citizen of another country. No citizen of the Republic shall be deprived of citizenship or nationality except as provided by law; and no person shall be denied the right to change citizenship or nationality.”

Counsellor Frederick A.B. Jayweh opined recently. “The only remedy that Liberians by birth have and can undertake to prevent the unlawful amendment of Article 28 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia, is to muster the necessary manpower and resources to file a petition for a Writ of Prohibition before the Supreme Court of the Republic of Liberia. The proposed Amendment of Article 28 of the 1986 Constitution as is, is repugnant and violates the spirit and letter of entire Constitution of Liberia. Liberians most concerned about this unlawful act, must act now or continue to forever blame themselves and their inaction.”

Cllr. Frank Musah Dean, current Minister of Justice, who was one of the lawyers who argued the case before the Supreme Court says, Monday’s high court decision, in effect ensures that Diaspora-based Liberians cannot lose their citizenship automatically, except pursuant to due process. “This means if one is accused of having subscribed to another citizenship, you must be taken before a judge and proof of the second citizenship established before you can lose your Liberian citizenship. In the absence of an amendment, this was the best we could get. The constitutional provision prohibiting dual citizenship is still in force. What the amendment seeks to do is to abolish it completely; except that dual citizens won’t be eligible for certain positions in government.”

Nevertheless, Teage insists that the Supreme Court has held that the 1973 enactment that was being relied on for loss of citizenship was annulled by constitutional command on January 6, 1986.  “This means at a minimum that Liberians have been enjoying dual citizenship by default since that time. With there being no valid enactment since January 6, 1986 to strip the referenced group of Liberians of citizenship, it means that those Liberians are still entitled to the full benefits of their citizenship. If the Legislature, for example, were to pass a statute in the future providing for loss of citizenship, that statute cannot be applied retroactively to deprive a Liberian of his or her citizenship. And, if a person is still a Liberian regardless of whether he or she holds a foreign citizenship or have served in a foreign military, should it matter to that person if the Legislature does not give official recognition to their foreign citizenship?”

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